7.18.2009

A Kerning Lesson

I've been getting traffic recently from people looking for information on kerning. Seeing this made me remember when I had first started out and was trying to learn as much about design as quickly as possible. I searched for instructions on kerning and I found the results to be pretty disappointing. Even though now I feel like I have a pretty decent understanding of the concept, I've never heard kerning explained as well as Ed Benguiat explains it. The following explanation is derived from his lesson on kerning.


A Basic Definition


Kerning is the process of adjusting the space between pairs of letters.



Practical Application


If we were to take three lines of text: AMERICAN, AIRLINES, AROUND and just type it out in Helvetica bold it might look passable but our goal is to fix the spacing so that it doesn't look there are holes of white space in the words.



First decide how tightly spaced you want the words to be and then determine the space between the first two letters



Once you have the space between the first two letters established you can kern the rest of the text. This isn't a purely mathematical thing, it's visual. Each letter is unique and the amount of positive and negative space it has is different so you can't rely on using Illustrator to make sure the space is numerically even. The way you do this is by looking at three letters at a time and moving the third letter left or right until it looks like the middle letter is centered between the first and third. 


Here are some examples of how the process might go:
This is a little too loose



This is too tight



This looks about right



Consistency Commandments:


Now that we've begun to space the letters there are some guidelines that will make it easier and faster so that you don't have to rethink each pair of letters


The space between two straights will always be the same.
For example if you have already established the space between "IB" you will know what to do later in a heading if encounter a "NM"



The space between two rounds will always be the same
If you have already established the space between "OC" you will know what to do when you see "OG"



The space between a straight and a round will always be the same.
If you have already established the space between "MO" you will know what to do when you see "HC"



Here is what you might get for a final product if you started off with the "AM" combination above


Here is what it looked like typed out without any modification, just for comparison

8 comments:

Kevin said...

Very interesting Chris. I emailed this to a few relevant friends. Thanks. Hope u r well.

Chris Beesley said...

Thanks for the comment, I really appreciate you forwarding this.

Steve said...

I enjoyed learning about kerning. My instructor always found my kerning to be slightly "off" in my Photoshop projects, which frustrated me.

OlgaHerself said...

did you actually type all of that stuff yourself? very usefull info for sure!

Chris Beesley said...

Thanks. This is an original article. I wrote it a while after I took Ed Benguiat's class.

Xoff said...

Awesome! I am taking Ed's class now at SVA and loving it. He has stories for days.

"If you are ever in a bind and need a logo quick, just slap a box around Helvetica."

Xoff said...

Thanks for the post. I am taking Ed's class right now at SVA and loving it.

"If you are ever in a bind and need a logo fast, slap a box around Helvetica; works every time."

Chris Beesley said...

Thanks! Ed's class was definitely one of my favorites at SVA. I learned so much and haven't looked at type the same way since.